Sometimes the only thing standing between a domestic violence victim and the freedom to escape an abusive relationship is the ability to maintain economic security. While the workplace can be a haven for some victims, it can be a scary place for others.
That’s why 32 states offer unemployment insurance to help battered men and women obtain temporary wage replacement when forced to leave their jobs because of violent relationships. Florida could be next.
State Sen. Oscar Braynon II, D-Miami Gardens, has filed a bill that would amend Florida’s unemployment insurance law to allow individuals to collect benefits when they lose their jobs or quit work due to domestic violence. It can’t come soon enough.
Statistics show there were 111,681 domestic violence incidents reported in Florida in 2011 and nearly 200 of those resulted in death, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Traditionally, we think of domestic violence as something that happens at home. Yet many perpetrators follow their victims to work, call them incessantly and wait outside at the end of the day. As a result, many victims are fired or resign from their jobs. With no means of support, they are forced back home, into poverty or homelessness.
The bipartisan bill, which has begun winding its way through the Florida Legislature, requires victims to show evidence or “good cause” for voluntarily leaving work due to domestic violence. In this case, it narrowly means victims would only receive compensation if they believe they or family members are in imminent danger.
That’s too narrow. It places a heavy burden of proof on the victim. The definition of “good cause” should be broad — to respond to all potential experiences of working victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
The law should include outreach and education tools to inform victims through the workplace, domestic violence shelters and programs and agencies that work with the unemployed. Otherwise, these legislative changes will be underutilized.
Florida legislators would be smart to look to the successes and failures of other states and include testimony from both domestic violence and labor advocates. The final law should generously respond to the true needs of domestic violence victims to provide for them during the most vulnerable times in their lives.
Formerly a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times and Orlando Sentinel, Susan Clary is a freelance writer living in Winter Park.